1 Corinthians 15:1-8
Every once in a while I bring up the fact that about five years ago (that would be in 2006 A.D.) I stumbled onto some Christian blogs that were arguing over the Gospel message. These arguments weren’t between Roman Catholics and Protestants who have very different views on what is required to be saved from eternity in the Lake of Fire. No, these arguments were between believers who held basically the same view that eternal salvation comes through faith alone in Christ alone. Sounds simple doesn’t it? Well it is most definitely not simple.
During the next year I involved myself in some of those debates over “Free Grace” and witnessed some very un-Christ like behavior between fellow members of the body of Christ. I know that I also crossed the line at times and wrote some things that I shouldn’t have. It was definitely an opportunity to grow spiritually and to learn to have the discipline to bite my tongue or, rather, to stop typing.
What does this have to do with 1 Corinthians 15:1-8 you ask? Well this was one of the main battleground passages in that argument. Does this passage say that a person must believe that “Christ died, was buried, and then rose again” in order to be saved? If it does then doesn’t it contradict other Gospel passages? The opportunities for strife were almost endless.
I read something the other day that reminded me of all this and I decided to do some digging. Five years ago I didn’t know about Robert Dean’s ministry but I wish I did. He studied the book of 1 Corinthians in 2002 and both the audio lessons (link here) and transcripts (link here) are available online. I believe they are a wealth of great information and I am going to quote from the transcripts so that I have a written record I can go back to.
Would this material have convinced any of the combatants five years ago? Absolutely not. Everyone was throwing quotes from their favorite experts at each other with no effect. However I respect Robert Dean and I am interested in his teaching on the subject. For all I know I am the only one.
My first quote is from the transcript from lesson 95 (link here) where Dr. Dean summarizes the point that the Apostle Paul is making in Chapter 15. Context is important!
1 Corinthians 15 is the chapter in the New Testament about the resurrection. The emphasis in this chapter is on the centrality of resurrection to Christianity. The first two verses are an introduction: that resurrection is an empirical reason for Christianity, otherwise our faith would have no real purpose. Verses 3-19 deal with the historical realities of the resurrection. Verses 20-28 talk about the impact of the resurrection on the angelic conflict and human history. Verses 29-34, the implications of Christ’s resurrection. Verses 35-58 answer questions regarding the resurrection.
While it doesn’t come through strongly in this quote, Dr. Dean makes the point in his teaching that Paul’s purpose in this passage is not to recapitulate the Gospel to the Corinthian Church, they already know it. What he is doing is logically building a case, starting with the Gospel, which shows the importance of a physical resurrection.
Dr. Dean in his study of this passage actually goes to the Book of Acts to get a firm handle on what the Gospel message was that Paul gave them. That Gospel was “faith alone in Christ alone” and does not require a belief in Christ’s resurrection in order to be saved.
Now I am going to provide a quote from lesson 97 (link here). I have added emphasis to the sentence which, for me at least, answers my question from the old debates:
The question we have addressed: What is the gospel? This is so important to understand. The starting point for understanding the Christian life is to understand the gospel, not merely understanding it enough to believe it for salvation, for justification for phase one salvation. They realize that their faith is in Christ alone as the only object of their faith, that they are saved only because of what Jesus did, that anything else is superfluous and nothing else matters, and they are saved. At that instant God imputes to them the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ. That means God’s perfect righteousness is credited to their account. It is as if you had a negative balance of ten-million dollars in your account which is analogous to sin, all of our righteousnesses are as filthy rags and no matter how good you are you the bottom line is you have a ten-million dollar deficit in your moral bank account. And you can never make that up, there aren’t enough good deeds in the world to ever get you even to the point of having a positive balance. Yet the riches of Jesus Christ’s righteousness are put in that account the instant you put faith alone in Christ alone. It is not because you have never sinned, it has nothing to do with that.
The gospel can be presented as simply as “believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved,” Acts 16:31, or it can be much more profound, depending on the person you are talking with, depending on the circumstances, depending on how much garbage is in their soul, depending on how long it has been since they have had any kind of understanding of biblical truth. Some people have been prepared. But then there are unprepared people who have to be approached in a slightly different manner.
What Paul is beginning to get to in the first two verses in chapter fifteen is that there are real implications to the gospel and the starting point is that we learn grace. The irreducible minimum in salvation is that we recognize that we are lost, under condemnation in some sense, and the only way out is Jesus Christ. But in our post-salvation spiritual life as we are growing and advancing in the spiritual life we have to understand what grace is. Grace is the foundation for understanding concepts of His forgiveness, love, the on-going relationship of God with a believer who is in carnality, and if we don’t understand grace which comes from understanding the gospel and what Christ did on the cross then we are never going to be able to understand these other concepts in the Christian life. So Paul again and again and again goes back to the essence of the gospel and what is included in the gospel in order to unpack these various emphases on grace. So he says, “Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received.”
Looking back on all those arguments I think that Dr. Dean’s position on this passage would have been rejected by both sides. I am not joking about that either!